Designer 856 asks…I have been hearing a lot about the manufacturing process of ethoxylation using the petrochemical ethylene oxide. Can you explain what that entails? I’ve read this process can also result in a trace contaminant called 1,4-Dioxane, a known carcinogen. If a company is using ethoxylated ingredients, but tests for and removes any present 1,4-Dioxane then is there any other reason that use of such ingredients may be questioned by consumers looking for more natural products?
The Left Brain responds:
Ethoxylation is the process of chemically reacting ethylene oxide with fatty acids (or other hydrocarbons) to make them more water soluble. In cosmetics, hydrocarbons are good for making hair and skin feel smooth, soft and in better condition. But hydrocarbons don’t mix with water (think of separated salad dressing). So, chemists ethoxylate the compounds making them more water soluble. Some consumers (especially those that are interested in using natural products) are concerned that anything that has been ethoxylated contains 1,4 Dioxane and is therefore dangerous.
They’re partially right: No matter how well you try to remove 1,4 Dioxane there will always be a trace level left. But it comes down to a matter of the dose. Many things cause cancer and health problems but are perfectly fine in low enough doses. There has never been any evidence suggesting that ethoxylated compounds in cosmetics cause cancer. Based on science, there is no reason to avoid compounds just because they have been ethoxylated.
The Beauty Brains bottom line
Even “natural” products will contain carcinogens at trace levels. These things are in our environment. They are impossible to completely avoid.